They're back in Washington, and Nixon had long meetings about Watergate with Ehrlichman and Colson on the 19th, and then with Haldeman on the 20th. Nothing is really new. The FBI is still questioning people, and the grand jury is beginning its work. John Dean is actively running the cover up, reporting to Haldeman, who keeps the president informed. Most of the conversation over these two days is about the same thing: working towards a coherent story they can tell the prosecutors, and who if anyone they have to sacrifice to do that.
The conversations are all over the place, really. Nixon, for example, lectures John Ehrlichman on the danges of covering up anything:
Ehrlichman: They're not going to be able to contrive a story that indicates that [Magruder] didn't know what was going on. But I think that's what Dean's working on this morning.
President Nixon: Did he know?
Ehrlichman: Oh, yes. Oh Lord, yes. He's in it with both feet.
President Nixon: He can't contrive a story, then. You know, I'd like to see this thing work out, but I've been through these. The worst thing a guy can do, the worst thing -- there are two things and each is bad. One is to lie and the other is to cover up.
President Nixon: If you cover up, you're going to be caught.
President Nixon: And if you lie you're going to be guilt of perjury. Now, basically that was the whole story of the Hiss case...
As usual, Nixon is back on his favorite example of everything. But: of course they are covering up, and they'll soon be arranging perjury, and the conversations are full of the cover up. Just a little while later, for example, still on Magruder:
Ehrlichman: I think he has to go in and say: "Well, I did this and it was a bad thing to do and I got carried away and I feel terrible about it."
President Nixon: Well, can't he state it just a little different? He could say he did it, but say it slightly --
President Nixon: What I mean is [he should say]...I didn't expect to be this way, and so forth and so on. I said, "just get all the information you can. I mean, I've just got to take the responsibility for it.
President Nixon: I think he could say that. I don't think he should -- I'm thinking it would be unfortunate if he should say, I ordered wiretapping.
President Nixon: That's a problem.
They then get into a long discussion over whether Magruder is tough enough to hold up while testifying, basically without giving up John Mitchell.
Nixon, as always, is fascinating. What was he up to? Was the lecture about covering up and perjury just for the tapes? You never know, but it sure seems unlikely to me; was there really any point in building an evidence trail showing how he was innocent? Did he just not realize that what he was doing totally contradicted what he was saying? Did he not think of it as covering up?
Haldeman says at one point that they just thought of it as damage control the way that White Houses are always doing damage control. I can sort of see that, to tell the truth, just in terms of their own self-justifications. I mean, once they get through the election, they're free and clear, right?
But they also do realize they're in trouble, at some level. On the 20th, Nixon and Haldeman have been talking about the Magruder situation and more, and then Nixon later returns to it:
President Nixon: Get this Watergate thing on the way. I had a strange dream last night. It's going to be a nasty issue for a few days. I can't believe that -- we're whistling in the dark, but I can't believe that they can tie this thing to me. What's your feeling?
Haldeman: It'll be messy. I think John [Ehrlichman]'s probably right. If we're going to take any time, we can't avoid getting the committee tied in somehow. It's better to get it tied in quickly and get it over with.
Did the president mean "tie this thing to me" politically? As in, an administration scandal that would hurt him in November? Again, it's really hard to know, sometimes, how to interpret a lot of this.